There’s always a reason to return to Boston.
The New England city of nearly 685,000 residents that perches prettily on the harbor that shares its name has much to offer group travelers. It’s not only beautiful, with a stunning skyline and those sparkling, shining water views, but it’s bountiful, too, filled with an array of diverse landmarks visitors are sure to appreciate.
Known best for its history — it is where the Boston Tea Party and the Battle of Bunker Hill took place — it also boasts world-class arts and architecture, along with attractions centered around sports and the natural world. The most difficult thing about planning a tour of Boston is figuring out which of its splendid sights to add to the itinerary next.
Here are some activities to include on your group’s next trip to Boston.
Dubbed America’s Walking City thanks to its surprisingly small downtown footprint, Boston is home to “walking tours for every kind of theme imaginable,” said Stacy Thornton, senior manager of tourism sales, Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau. The most popular follow the iconic Freedom Trail, 16 historic sites that all played a role in the events that led up to the American Revolution, with organizations like the Freedom Trail Foundation offering various themed excursions around it. Groups can arrange custom tours through the foundation or book prepackaged tours like Revolutionary Women, which concerns heroic females who fought for equality from the War for Independence onward; Pirates and Patriots, which explores true tales of life along the 18th-century Boston Harbor; and Lantern, a chilling nighttime look at macabre and murderous Freedom Trail history.
“Boston has some of the best history tours and experiences in the United States,” Thornton said. “I think that is definitely our speciality. The Freedom Trail Foundation does a really great job of not only getting the stories right, but also bringing them to life with really talented performers. They do take on the persona and the character from a real person in history, and they do dress in costumes that are historically accurate to that character and the time period.”
Is there any sports venue as famous or beloved as Fenway Park? Opened in 1912, the home of the Boston Red Sox is the oldest ballpark still used by a major league team and, according to Thornton, tours of its interior are thus on a lot of people’s bucket lists.
“It’s such an interesting ballpark,” she said, “that we’ve found that even when there are people in the group that don’t like sports or don’t watch baseball, they end up having a really good time. You get to go into different parts of the park on the tour, and it’s just such a quirky place. Some people are really surprised by how much they enjoy it.”
Guided group tours feature plenty of fascinating history about the ballpark, team and players, including celebrated names like Ted Williams, Carlton Fisk and Pedro Martinez. Possible stops include the top of the Green Monster — the left-field wall — which soars 37 feet 2 inches high, the highest in MLB, and still sports a manual scoreboard. Groups may also visit the National Car Rental Royal Rooters Club — home to memorabilia such as the baseball used by Roger Clemens during his 1986 20-strikeout game — as well as the Right Field Roof Deck, which offers a breathtaking view of the ballpark and skyline.
Boston Public Library
Groups looking to combine Boston’s most remarkable architecture with its finest art would do well to schedule a tour of the Boston Public Library’s McKim Building. Erected in 1895, it became the third location of the BPL, the first free, publicly funded municipal lending library in the United States.
“When they decided to build this library, it was going to be a palace for the people, so they brought in the best artisans, and they really looked to Paris, Rome and other European capital cities to make this magnificent temple of learning in Boston,” said Thornton. “It has custom-designed murals, sculpture, marble tile — even though it’s a public library, it’s built like an art museum. It’s incredible.”
Among the show-stopping sights in the building are a 15-panel, gold-leaf mural by Edwin Austin Abbey depicting Sir Galahad’s quest for the Holy Grail. Meanwhile, up on the third floor, one of John Singer Sargent’s masterworks, a massive mural cycle titled “Triumph of Religion,” wraps around the ceiling and spills over walls. The celebrated American artist spent an astounding 29 years painting it. But despite the Boston Public Library’s many lofty charms, it’s surprisingly easy to access, with a convenient Copley Square location that’s close to motorcoach drop off/pick up points. Private tours are available to large groups with notice.
Named by the World Wildlife Fund as one of the top 10 whale watching spots on the planet, Massachusetts has put together a Whale Trail, with several stops in Beantown. That includes the New England Aquarium’s whale watching expeditions, which depart from Boston’s Central Wharf April through late October. A high-speed catamaran whisks groups about 30 miles away to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, a feeding ground for whales, as well as seabirds, dolphins and plenty of other ocean animals. On-board naturalists help travelers spot critically endangered right whales, as well as humpback whales, pilot whales, minke whales and finback whales.
With reservations, groups of 10 or more can package their whale watching cruises with discounted admission to the New England Aquarium. The aquarium makes for a great group stop, with plenty of crowd-pleasing animals on display, such as African penguins, loggerhead sea turtles, California sea lions and even green anacondas. A shark and ray tank gives visitors the chance to touch these graceful sea creatures, and the aquarium’s newest feature, the Indo-Pacific Coral Reef Exhibit, showcases the beauty and vitality of one of the ocean’s most important ecosystems.